“The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include: Attempted rape; Fondling or unwanted sexual touching; Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body; Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape”. Every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. 55% of victims will be assaulted at or near their homes. 48% were sleeping, or performing another activity at home. 54% are between the ages of 18-34. Approximately seven out of 10 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. 1 in 6 American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. (The above information obtained from rainn.org.)
On August 4, 2013, I moved from being a 6 to a 1. I was 36 years old, it occurred in my home by a man who I had hired to replace the carpet in my master bedroom which is where the assault took place, on my bed to be exact (details are another post for another day). I haven’t told many people this occurred, most of my family doesn’t know. However, to those select few I have told this is typically where I’m quick to point out “I wasn’t raped or anything”. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m trying to make more out of this than what it was since essentially my experience is best described as “fondling or unwanted sexual touching”. I feel that if I don’t point this out I would be downplaying the ordeal of those women and men who have gone through such a horrific experience in being violated in the most vulnerable way possible by comparing my experience to theirs. An awful ordeal that I would never want to repeat? Yes. Comparable to rape? Absolutely not. And certainly nowhere near as horrible as the victims of human trafficking who spend years of their lives being raped several times on a daily basis, some from a very young age in which they may not even understand what is happening. So you may now understand my feelings of who am I to have the audacity to claim sexual assault? I know I felt violated of some sort, but what? I looked up the definition of sexual assault in efforts to come to terms in my own mind as to what I had experienced. Perhaps this was in efforts to ease the guilt I felt stating I was a victim, or even dare say a survivor, when others had been through so much more and so much worse than I had. Or perhaps in efforts to put it in a box of sorts in my mind to define to myself what had happened to me so I could then close up the box and throw it out with the weekly trash so I could be done with this unpleasant encounter and move on with my life as though it had never occurred.
It’s been nearly four years, I still feel that same guilt. I still feel like an imposter even uttering the words “I was sexually assaulted” as if I am making my experience out to be so much more than it was while still searching for the reason of why this experience absolutely destroyed me in every possible capacity, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. In fact, I still tear up talking about it.
It wasn’t until while listening to Balanced Bites, one of my favorite health and nutrition podcasts in which they were discussing adrenal fatigue that I came to the realization it doesn’t matter how big or small your experience is, it only matters that it is yours and how it affected you. I was particularly interested in the topic of adrenal fatigue due to this being one of the ways in which I was destroyed physically and was hoping to find answers to heal some of my physical symptoms. Little did I know the emotional healing it would provide me. The entire episode is amazing and I believe helpful to anyone managing any sort of stress (i.e. everyone) but it really started to hit me straight in the heart around the 43-minute mark. The hosts were discussing exactly what I experiencing emotionally feeling my experience was insignificant compared to others who had been through much worse. And then this statement was made:
Liz Wolfe: “Along with that, and along with what I was talking about with what I’m kind of grappling with right now; you also have to, I say this all the time, give yourself grace if you believe that’s something that’s really, really, really weighing on you is not weighing similarly on another person. There are many, many people who have similar or probably more difficult birth stories than I do, yet the way it makes me feel, that’s what is the factor here. You can’t compare about how you feel about something to how somebody else feels about the same thing. All that matters is how you feel about it. So, I think maybe this, as a woman, maybe this is something that women are more apt to do. But I feel like I have a huge tendency to compare anything I’m struggling with someone else who is dealing with the same stuff. So I don’t know why we minimize our feelings or look at other people and decide; “oh gosh, I shouldn’t feel this way. They get to feel this way, but I don’t.” But I think that’s also something to just be watchful about as you travel through life, because I think that’s something that happens multiple times, every single day, where we invalidate our own feelings or our responses to things and really to our own detriment, and I think that compounds the problem, as well.”
Hearing this and what was said prior to this statement created a profound shift for me. Not only in my thinking but also within my soul. It was as if God was speaking directly to me through these women telling me exactly what I needed to hear. Tears began streaming down my face and I felt a release of this huge weight I had been carrying all these years that I’ve never felt prior to this point. Instantly my entire body felt lighter as if I had finally released all of the pain that my body had been holding on to all of these years, not just from my current pain but from all the pain I’d held on to my entire life. It helped me begin to realize the fact that even though others have gone through similar or more difficult experiences, they were not me. They had not experienced what I had that day which was unique to my own personal situation. This feeling didn’t last and wasn’t a permanent healing but it was a start which gave me hope that healing is possible and an insight to how amazing it feels to let it all go.
We all process life events and trauma differently and as stated in this podcast episode, a lot of this can be based on past experiences either suppressed or those that you have not fully processed. They compared it to a beaker of water that was filled to the brim and sometimes it’s that one extra drop that begins the momentum which sends everything spinning out of control. This event is what I believe to be that final drop causing every ounce of my body to begin screaming as loud as it could and in every way it could convey the message of “Enough! This is the last time this happens to me!”. I had a rush of memories that I believe I suppressed for awhile, perhaps not wanting to admit to myself the gravity of what had occurred or maybe at the time seemed to be a minor incident. Basically, I had brushed them off as weird experiences and nothing more. I came to the realization that not only had this the first time a man had touched me inappropriately or without my consent, over the previous 15 years it seemed I’d had an incident every few years or so.
A few years prior to this incident I was at a male friend’s home, we were trying to catch up on a few episodes of a TV show we had been watching with our group of friends. It had slowly dwindled from a group of friends to the two of us with only one episode left that everyone else had seen. It was late, we were tired but decided to power through and finish this one episode. I ended up falling asleep and woke up with him lying next to me on the couch running his hands up and down the entire upper half of my body and down my thighs. Once I was awake enough to be fully aware of what was happening, I jumped up, threw my shoes on and left. He tried contacting me after, at first texting as normal. When I didn’t respond he texted stating he didn’t know what he had done or why I wasn’t responding but he’s sorry. A year or so later I ran into one of our mutual friends who informed me he finally admitted to her what had happened after everyone kept asking why I didn’t come around anymore.
A few years prior to this I once again fell asleep while watching a moving at the home of a man I was dating and woke up to him unzipping my pants. I asked him what he was doing, he responded that he thought I was “into it” because I was pulling him into me. This could not have been farther from the truth. When I woke up my hands were not touching him or even near him. I should have demanded he take me home since he drove that night but since it was the middle of the night and I didn’t want to be a bother.
A year or two after I was on a flight with my family to visit a sister living out of state. We were all separated on the plane, I ended up sitting next to a man around my age. I had a weird feeling about him but was sitting in the middle seat between him and another person, plus I was on an airplane surrounded by people, so I felt safe. Turns out my weird feeling was correct. I dozed off during the flight and awoke to him holding my hand, my head on his shoulder and him tracing my face and lips with his finger. Not wanting to cause a scene, I pretended I was just starting to wake up and pulled my hand and head away by stretching like I had just woken up. I was grateful it was the plane landing that caused me to wake up and I was able to get away from him fairly quickly. My family and I laughed it off as he was just a creeper but something in me still felt unsettled.
When I was 19 I had been seeing an optometrist for several weeks for an eye condition I had begun experiencing. On my last visit with him, prior to him moving out of state, in the middle of the exam, he reached up to adjust the exam device, then dropped his hand to the top of my thigh running it along the full length of my thigh. I had been wearing shorts so it was all bare skin. He continued with the exam as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred but he had to have seen my eyes get as big as saucers from surprise since he was examining them through the device. It took several years before I wasn’t anxious for an eye exam and began to relax.
Again, technically these incidences may not fit the definition of “sexual assault” and honestly at this point I don’t care to define them. What I do care about is the fact that each and every one of these incidences changed me in some way. Each of these incidences chipped away at my trust in others making me question a man’s true intent. Including the fact that three of these men, two of which I had placed my trust in, would take advantage of my vulnerability while sleeping. And who are these men to do such a thing, to take something not belonging to them? I’m sure every woman has at least one story of sexual harassment on some level or of a man that has touched her without her consent. Not that men are not victims as well but typically women are the majority of victims. Often times this occurs at work. We typically tolerate these incidences because we feel it’s easier to tolerate it than go through the process of reporting it and then endure the investigation process. In addition, we fear the possibility of rumors and our reputations being put on the line, or the possibility of accused retaliating. As well as concern of the stigma of being the woman that you need to be careful around because she will definitely report you along with the possibility of this stigma hurting our chances for advancement.
After I was assaulted by the carpet installer I hesitated to report it to the police. Not wanting the possibility of a trial and all that goes along with it. The thing that convinced me to report the incident was to try to keep him from doing this to someone else. I decided that even if it didn’t go anywhere, at least if I report it and he does end up doing this again, there would be a report on file already and they would be believed. I was lucky, the Officer and Crime Victim Advocate I reported this to completely believed me and helped me understand everything. The Detective I worked with also believed me and pushed for charges to be filed but the District Attorney stated without physical evidence it was my word against his. Basically, they couldn’t prosecute when the only evidence is an accusation. I have to admit, part of me that was grateful I didn’t have to testify or ever see him again. But I did see him again. I saw him at night in my dreams. I saw images in my mind of him coming back in retaliation anytime I had my sliding glass door open, he would come at night through the gate through into my backyard to hurt me. Just last night I left my sliding glass door open as I went into the house to get something, I had my back to the door and in my mind’s eye pictured, and in a way, felt him coming up behind me. In reality, he most likely has moved on from this incident. He doesn’t think about me nor does he remember where I live. But in my reality he’s been in my house and knows the entire layout, should he return and retaliate he knows exactly where to find me.
There are parts of me that are actually grateful for my experiences. It’s taught me so many things and I believe is pushing me towards discovering my life’s purpose. It’s also helped me gain a new understanding of others and given me more compassion for others. It helps me not to judge others their experiences as harshly as I may previously have because when it comes down to it I don’t know their history and what they’ve gone through to get them to the point they’re at today. I’ve also learned that you really don’t understand someone or something until it happens to you. The sad reality is there are millions of men and women who do know exactly how I feel. Who have experienced all of the exact same emotions I have. Yet we all feel something completely different because we each had our own individual experiences.
*Universe wink & smile moment: This was an incredibly difficult post for me to write. Truth be told, I’ve been working on different versions for months. Partially not knowing exactly what to write or how to explain my experience and partially wanting it to be “perfect”. Since part of my intent is to help others who have also experienced what I have I couldn’t seem to get it to be just right. Coincidentally, the past few weeks I’ve been listening to the audio version “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she encourages writers to write for themselves and no one else and to let inspiration to lead you to wherever it wants. Stating over and over that it does not need to be perfect. Giving an example of many things that would have never been completed or released if the creator had perfected it. This is what pushed me to finally sit down, combine all of my versions, and get it done so I could move on to all the other posts I have swirling around in my head. And to quote Aaron Anastasi’s response on the Sean Croxton Sessions when he’s told his book is perfect, “Oh, no way. But it is done, and done is better than perfect.”